Health Evolution | December 1, 2020
Ryan Wells has experienced health care through multiple lenses: the medical device industry, major health systems and payers, and as an entrepreneur.
In its own way, each of those angles inspired him to found Health Here with a focus on frictionless patient care.
Health Evolution interviewed Wells about overcoming the challenges he’s faced building a truly consumer-friendly platform in health IT, why patient-facing software must be bi-directionally integrated with health system software such as EMRs, and how he applies lessons learned from mountaineering to innovating in health care.
As a serial entrepreneur, what was the inspiration for Health Here? The origin story?
Wells: I’ve spent 25 years in healthcare and gathered perspectives through several angles: from the operating room floor to the complex world of health systems, major payers, and health care IT. Nothing I’ve seen in all this time has shaken my core conviction that the patient-physician relationship is the foundation of the entire system.
If you think about that special relationship between a patient and their doctor, it is infused with trust, respect, and personal connection. However, nearly every patient interaction outside of the core patient-provider relationship is confusing, opaque, and, when you get right down to it, cold. Just recall the last time you saw a doctor. You show-up 30 minutes before your visit to fill-out 20 minutes of paperwork. When you go back to see your doctor, often 20 minutes after your scheduled appointment time, a medical assistant then asks you the same set of questions you just answered in the waiting room. When your doctor sees you, you receive several treatment options with no reference to actual costs, and when you leave the clinic, you have no idea how much that 10-minute interaction with your doctor will cost you. This whole process is frustrating and disrespectful to both patients and providers.
So when you ask about my inspiration, it started with my frustration at this fundamental disconnect between how patients connect with their doctors versus how they experience the rest of the health care system.
What has that inspirational itch grown into?
Wells: That inspirational itch has grown into Health Here and the Clinic Q platform. Our mission, from day one, has been to bring simplicity and clarity to each patient-provider interaction, from first impression to final payment. We’ve built an entire patient-facing suite of products within Clinic Q to support that overarching goal, but, when you boil it down, we’re giving patients two main things they lack in the care journey today: 1) cost clarity, and 2) a convenient, mobile-friendly interface for interacting with their providers.
We’re seeing that when practices adopt our platform and give their patients these tools, they’re spending less time on administrative work, like registration and collections, and more time on that core patient-physician relationship. Everything else, which is just noise, can fade into the background.
In just a couple of years, we’ve gained quite a bit of traction by focusing on the ambulatory market, particularly on orthopedics and other proceduralists like GI. Patients are paying more out-of-pocket for elective care than ever (64% owe more than $500 a year), and most of the care in these specialties is “shoppable” — people have time to think and browse a bit before choosing their course of treatment or site of care. Our thesis is that providers who build patient trust through cost clarity and easy-to-use patient-facing technologies will be the big winners. And the data seems to demonstrate that.
Ryan Wells, Health Here
What was the biggest challenge you overcame in achieving what Health Here has accomplished?
Wells: Delivering a superior consumer-oriented experience is very much about design, but another often-overlooked piece in health care is the need to wire into a medical practice’s EMR and practice management (PM) system. If you don’t have that bi-directional integration, you’re just building a bridge to nowhere. However, integration into these systems is always a bear. Even though I knew this, it’s like going into a fight: every boxer has a fight-plan until they get punched in the nose. In the coming years, we will live in a world where standardized patient data API’s like FHIR are ubiquitous. Since we’re not there yet, we ended up having to build our integration engine to handle the scattershot nature of integration pathways today. It was a slog at times, but we achieved critical mass by completing integrations with the major EMR systems.
The CEOs in our Innovation Lab have had different experiences amid COVID-19. For some, the utilization of their technology has declined along with in-person visits while others have seen previously unimaginable increases. What has been Health Here’s experience?
Wells: Like telehealth, COVID puts a multiplier on our platform. We’re growing and continue to grow amid COVID. We launched a customer in March in the height of the pandemic, fully remote. That CEO credited us with helping navigate the situation. We removed the need for a waiting room and protected their limited staff by enabling contactless patient check-ins and payments. Since March, we’ve seen patient check-ins rapidly shift to our mobile pre-visit workflow — over 80 percent of all patients we interact with now check-in on mobile before they get to the office.
Of course, there was that initial shock in March, April, and May, where everyone was asking, “How big of a hit are we going to take?” Even when volumes returned to about eighty-five percent, things were still relatively slow in June, July, from a sales pipeline perspective — the groups we talked to were shell-shocked. Given that, I was expecting a market return to be a Q4 event — but groups started coming back to us in August, and new business is firing on all cylinders now.
How does the platform work in terms of what a CEO would benefit from understanding?
Wells: It’s all about making a clinic visit frictionless by turning redundant processes into a consumer-friendly experience for patients while automating tasks on the backend for providers. Some interactions require updating every time a patient encounter occurs, such as gathering up-to-date patient information and verifying insurance benefits. Clinic Q streamlines them. From a provider standpoint, this means our toolset can increase clinic throughput, enhance patient data quality, and, since we still have siloed medical records, make it easy for their patients to share health information.
The Clinic Q solution suite also removes friction from the patient revenue cycle and adds net revenue to clinics by infusing the patient collections process with clarity and simplicity. For instance, we completely automate the insurance verification process by using machine learning to read insurance plan information from a patient’s card image and then mapping that plan information back into a patient’s billing record in the EMR/PM. We’re also doing things like presenting patients with accurate cost estimates before high dollar events such as surgeries, allowing clinics to collect before scheduling, and eliminating surprise bills for patients. This space is incredibly exciting for me as there are numerous pain points across the patient revenue cycle that our technology is well-positioned to solve.
What should existing and prospective Health Here customers expect in the foreseeable future?
Wells: We are scaling quickly, and next year is looking to be another big year. From the product side of things, we are gearing up to assist patients during the provider search process. We’ll do this by giving providers the tools they need to expose cost and quality information to the market in a patient-friendly way. Self-scheduling is also a natural extension of our platform, and we’re well-positioned to deliver a novel approach in that space.
From a go-to-market standpoint, we focus on serving specialists as the need there is clear, and they can move quickly. However, I also expect our platform will soon dovetail into a major health system’s cost transparency and direct-to-consumer strategy. Ultimately, we see the platform serving as the digital glue between provider, payer, and patient.
What accomplishments are you as a CEO and founder most proud of?
Wells: The quality of the build. The product. It’s just clicked. There have been occasions where we’ve been presenting a demo to a prospective client and heard an audible ‘wow.’ My whole team is very proud of the quality of work. I intentionally recruited a team that is consumer-oriented in their history, and it shows. It’s been all about making the health care experience look and feel like what people now take for granted during any retail interaction. Although it hasn’t spilled over into health care yet, I think we’re pretty darn close. No matter where we land, I can say I am very proud of what we’ve built and, ultimately, how it’s enabling our customers to devote more time to direct patient care.
What advice would you give to other innovator CEOs?
Wells: There are several layers to that. I’ve been in health care for a while, and you often hear people talk about “disrupting” the space. However, time after time, you see companies and ideas failing when they take this approach. That’s why I tell our team to “work with the mountain, not against it.” So what do I mean by that? I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors and learned a lot about mountaineering. When you’re climbing a mountain, even if you’re in great shape, have a strong team, and have all the best gear, you still won’t make it up if you don’t respect the very real challenges a mountain can throw your way at any given time. I’ve always felt you have a similar dynamic in health care. Health care is a highly regulated space, and for a good reason: people’s lives are literally on the line. Therefore, I believe health care innovators need to appreciate and respect the guard rails on the system and work within them to be successful. Finally, you’ve just got to be prepared to persevere — it’s a marathon — so pick a space you are passionate about.
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